Mayor Shutters Children's Produce Stand For Lack of Permits

Two girls were told their produce stand violated local zoning laws.


Aug. 21, 2008— -- Call it a rite of passage: children by the roadside peddling their homemade goodies to adults who are more than eager to drop a few cents into a makeshift cashbox.

But Katie and Sabrina Lewis' veggie stand, in the town of Clayton, Calif., where they sold homegrown watermelons for $1, has been shuttered by town officials who told the girls' parents that their daughters' venture violated local zoning ordinances.

"I think that they're wrong," dad Mike Lewis said of the town officials. "Kids should be able to be kids."

The stand started about two years ago when Katie, now 11, decided she wanted to start selling produce from the family's ever-expanding garden. The family had been growing its own fruits and vegetables on its half-acre lot and giving away armfuls of extras to friends and family.

"I thought, 'No one's going to buy melons,'" Lewis said, before telling his eldest daughter to "go ahead."

Two hours later, Katie had sold out of melons.

Lewis said his daughter, now assisted by 3-year-old Sabrina, operated her stand on weekends, maybe 20 or so times during the year. They'd bring in about $10 to $20 a week.

"I take it and once I've got about $20 to $30, I'll bring it to the bank and put it in my bank account for college," Katie told

Lewis said the family got a call after the stand went up from a town employee saying that as long as the stand ran only on weekends it was fine.

But Clayton Mayor Gregory Manning said he first heard of the girls' operation this past April, after two residents called to ask if it was legal. Two months later, a police officer was sent to the stand to tell the Lewises that the girls were violating zoning regulations that prohibit commercial activities in a residential area.

The stand also violates health regulations, he said, which state that food can't be sold without a permit.

And while only two citizens complained, Manning said, "I find that for every person who calls you or writes a letter, there are 100 that feel the same."

Clayton, located about 30 miles east of San Francisco, is home to about 11,000 residents.

Lewis compared his daughters' stand to a more-common lemonade stand. But Manning said those, too, are illegal in Clayton, though officials typically don't pay much attention because they don't last more than a day or two.

"This is a pretty good operation," he said of the Lewis girls' stand. "I'm sure it's very nice stuff."

Katie said her most popular seller was the watermelons. Also big were zucchinis (75 cents for four small zucchinis and $1.25 for four of the larger ones) and eggplant, which was priced at six for $1.

Little sister Sabrina, Katie said, helped by picking flowers and hauling produce from the garden.

Manning said he's not trying to be the bad guy in this situation, but that he has to consider the residents' best interests.

"It's not like we're the Gestapo going out and closing down fruit stands," he said.

Posters on a local community blog were divided, with some calling for the mayor to lay off and others reminding the Lewis girls that everyone has to follow the same rules.

So, for now at least, the money going into Katie's college fund has slowed, though her father said they still sell some produce to loyal customers who call and then come by the house to pick it up.

Lewis said he's tried to get a temporary variance from the town to let the girls continue to work their stand, but said he's gotten the run around from the city council and its planning commission.

"I'm open to any suggestions from them," he said.

Manning, who is one of five on the city council and has served for 22 years, said the Lewises spoke to planning officials informally about the variance and were denied, though they were welcome to file a formal application.

Manning said he also wondered why no one from the family has spoken before either the council or the commission, when both entities have public comment portions at their meetings.

Lewis said he has been to a planning meeting, but a neighbor spoke on his behalf. And Lewis believes the majority of the council members to be against the stand's operation and that's why he hasn't approached them.

Manning said he never went out to the Lewis home while the girls were working their stand. Katie said that maybe the town officials were "not looking into it quite well."

"The produce is organic," she said, "and it's really good."

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